Hello friends! I am back in Base Camp, fit, healthy and doing well. It’s been a rollercoaster 9 days on the mountain, from the premature end of my no-oxygen dream to a reversal of fortune. I am still on target!
The first mini rotation
This longer rotation was to be split into 2 sections. The first ‘mini rotation’ was to spend 2 nights at Camp 3, perched at 7,200m / 23,600ft on the Lohtse face. During the day between those nights the plan was to climb to the South Col at around 8,000m / 26,000ft . Reaching that point was the ‘no Os’ test; if I could make it in a reasonable time (6 hours or so) then the no oxygen dream was on. If I couldn’t, the summit was likely out of my reach and the team would put me on oxygen for the remainder of the trip. The dream would be over.
On day 1 we climbed up through the icefall and my problems began. Because of the extra layers needed for no Os climbing at the summit (you get much colder than when on oxygen, as your body can’t metabolise and create heat as quickly) and the snacks / food for 10 days I carried a heavy backpack, climbing the icefall this time was far more physically draining than before. I was already hurting at the halfway point when we were met by a large group of Sherpa descending the route.
“The route is blocked and there’s no way around.” was the explanation. Damn.
However, one of our guides and a couple of the experienced Sherpa in our team had other ideas. While they went to reroute the lines we waited, huddling like penguins against the freezing 4am cold. Remarkably they managed to find a way around the collapse so after 1 1/2 hours we continued upwards – only to be met with another collapse! This was again fixed by our very impressive team, but for another 2 hours we stood amongst the ice getting very cold indeed.
We finally emerged from the icefall as the sun hit, only to face the long walk to Camp 2. I had hit the wall soon after Camp 1 and it was an agonizingly slow, exhausting grind to camp. Three hours later I was not a happy bunny.
We had a day of rest the next day, but at 6,500m it just wasn’t enough to undo the fatigue I had incurred. At 5am on day 3 it was time to climb the Lohtse Face to Camp 3 at 7,200m, and despite some recovery I was way down on performance. A 40mph ice-laden wind made the climb even more challenging, and after 5h 30min I crawled into camp, over an hour slower than my first attempt. What I REALLY needed, an utter imperative, was a good night’ sleep before the push the next day.
Not to be. In the usual twist of irony, it was in fact one of the least comfortable nights of my life. One of our team was unwell as he pulled into camp after a 12 hour ordeal, and I spent the night jammed into the side of our tent as the poor chap coughed, groaned and moaned without pause. Cold, constricted, hypoxic and constantly awake, it was pure torture. Fortunately for him, I was awake the whole night so I could tell when he became delirious and woke up our 3rd (soundly sleeping) tent mate at around 3am to confer. Ultimately we got our awesome guide, who administered oxygen and started the patient care process.
Needless to say, at 5am my head was not in the game. The last thing on this earth I wanted to do was endure the climb to the South Col. I was exhausted, mentally and physically; to tired to even realize this was a critical opportunity, and a test I was about to flunk. And flunk I did. Not caring about anything at that point I was exceptionally careless with my fingers, getting them near frozen even before putting on my climbing gloves. I was petulant and miserable, and starting straight into the 50 degree blue ice slope worsened my mood even further.
After 50m of slow climbing and some cold finger struggles, my Sherpa guide stopped.
“I don’t think you will make it to the South Col. You are too slow, and too cold. I think you won’t make it without oxygen, better you use oxygen. We should go down now.”
And that was it. We turned around and went down, collecting our stuff before descending to Camp 2. I was initially almost glad we turned around, but as we descended I realized what I had done to my dream and my chances. I had failed, and worse, now I had a Sherpa guide – my sole companion for the climb – who didn’t believe I could do it. To be honest, I think he’d always been sceptical, needing proof before he believed in me and my attempt. And now I had proved his skepticism correct. It made me as angry as I can ever remember being, almost exclusively at myself. Sure, I could be mad at him for turning me around (I was for a while) but ultimately he did the right thing.
I was soon back at Camp 2, with everything to prove to everyone, and mad as hell. I still believed I could do it. Luckily, though, I was only half way through the rotation. I’d demonstrated to everyone I couldn’t do it, but could I somehow recover this situation in the second mini rotation?
Tommorow we shall find out. 🙂